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USMC Photo A186435

Colonel John A. MacNeil, senior Marine advisor, inspects Vietnamese Marines' M-1 rifles. Material readiness was a matter of primary concern for the Marine Advisory Unit in 1965.

working party, all survivors from the 4th Battalion. The American Marine advisor later remarked:

We were all sick . . . (and so you can guess what the 'bag detail' was like). That evening we loaded troops and bodies into about ten 6x6s and drove off to Vung Tau. As we made the turn at Ba Ria onto Route 15 ... one of the body bags rolled off one of the trucks. The messy recovery action drew a crowd and the wailing started. The word was out that the 4th Battalion was wiped out.2

The results of Binh Gia were an ominous portent for 1965. MACV and the South Vietnamese command feared that the Viet Cong Communists might be ready to enter into the final phase of their war to take over the county. At the time, no one knew the exact size of the enemy force that had defeated the government units at Binh Gia. Rumors abounded, including one that the VC had been led by a general riding a white horse. Even discounting such stories, the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff knew the enemy force had been larger than any encountered before, although it was not until later that MACV learned that the Communists had formed the 9th VC Division from two independent regiments. After clearing the Binh Gia battlefield, the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff ordered a joint airborne and Marine operation to find and destroy the Communist attacking force. In response to the Joint General Staff order, the Vietnamese Marine Brigade launched Operation NGUYEN VAN NHO, named after the slain commander of the 4th Battalion. General Khang committed all three of his effective infantry battalions (the 5th Battalion was still being formed) to the operation. He maintained one battalion in reserve near the brigade's headquarters at Vung Tau while establishing a two-battalion task force headquarters under Colonel Yen at Ba Ria (Phouc Le), 14 miles to the north. The two forward battalions then swept a 25-square-mile area extending 10 miles northeast of Ba Ria and including Binh Gia.

The results of the operation, which lasted until 7 February, were disappointing. According to Colonel Nesbit, NGUYEN VAN NHO, under brigade control, revealed the weaknesses of the brigade staff in directing a large force in the field and the 'inadequacy of the brigade TO [Table of Organization] for sustained operations.' In order to fully man the advisory staff billets for the two headquarters, FMFPac provided eight Marine officers and 11 enlisted men while MACV sent two officers and seven enlisted men. Although this improvised American advisory staff quickly established itself at Vung Tau 'and functioned well,' Colonel Nesbit described the operation 'as one of cautious defense, and therefore not eminently successful in destroying VC.'3 Another Marine advisor. Major William G. Leftwich, Jr., called the operation 'lethargic' and observed that the task force headquarters played a static role while the 'two battalions operated sometimes independently and sometimes in concert.'4 Even more bluntly. Major Rogers provided the following description of the operation:

[Colonel] Yen was TF Commander at Ba Ria, while General Khang commanded from Vung Tau. ... I was (briefly, thank God) TF advisor to Yen at Ba Ria and did nothing there, nor did Yen. . . . We found no VC, no caches, no traces, nothing. Reportedly the VC were long gone. I was told the Airborne [operating north of the Marines] did find some rice. As for the 'VC general,' the 'VC Division,' the general's 'white horse,' we never saw a sign.5

Following the end of NGUYEN VAN NHO, the Joint General Staff ordered General Khang to send a VNMC task force to II Corps to bolster the ARVN forces holding Binh Dinh Province. Once more Colonel Yen commanded the task force headquarters, now called Task Force ALPHA. Absorbing some of the lessons learned during the NGUYEN VAN NHO campaign, TF ALPHA consisted of a 72-man headquarters and two infantry battalions, the




Page 205(1965: The Landing and the Buildup)